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article imageBlindness doesn't stop Robert Kingett from becoming a Digital Journalist Special

By David Silverberg     Oct 25, 2013 in Internet
Chicago - His school didn't have a newspaper so he created one. His journalistic reportage tackles the oft-neglected stories on disabilities. Welcome to the world of Robert Kingett, a blind Digital Journalist whose reporting aims to educate and inspire.
"I think that the biggest misconception people have is that blind people sit in a corner and suck their thumb." Kingett, 24, says he is devoted to combatting that stereotype by being an active reporter, studying journalism and writing articles on on accessibility issues.
Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. That could be the motto for Kingett, a Chicago writer and LGBT activist who is no stranger to adversity.
Born legally blind in New York, Kingett is afflicted with Retinopithy, which damages the blood vessels in our eyes. He is fully blind in one eye and endures tunnel vision with a visual acuity of 20/200. In the U.S., any person with vision that cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in the best eye, or who has 20 degrees (diameter) or less of visual field remaining, is considered legally blind.
He attended a school for the blind in Saint Augustine, Florida. He moved out at 17 after enduring a home life dripping in addiction: his mother was an alcoholic and "she took a lot of anger out on me that she didn't know how to express in a positive way," as Kingett tells me. It was then that his backbone grew firm: "I made a choice to work as hard as I possibly could because I didn't want to be back at the bottom of life, subjecting myself to someone else's control of my life."
We spoke to Kingett to learn about the challenges of growing up with a disability, how his blindness doesn't stop him from pursuing his media dreams, and the advocacy close to his heart.
Here is his inspiring story:
Digital Journal: Tell us about your time spent in Saint Augustine.
RK: I’d say the school taught me how to embrace my passion, and shoot for my dreams. I realized a lot of things about running my own newspaper that made me grow up very fast, but the school didn't have any writing club or journalism class or anything that involved writing so I was an outsider and my talent was useless there because they were big into sports and academics. I was good at academics but that's all, so I didn't want to just stand by and not use my gift. That's why I created the blind department newspaper.
I learned all the basic blindness skills like orientation and mobility, adaptive techniques for computers, and I even learned about being an advocate and what that entailed but the school didn't teach me that. I learned through observation and showing people what was what.
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett
Courtesy Robert Kingett
I learned that some people [outside of school] just don't care about the disabled. I realized that in order to take back my life I had to push and do everything I could to make my life better. I learned to develop my own accessibility, and if that meant making people follow the law then I was going to develop my own accessibility because I had, and have, the right to be included.
Digital Journal: How did you find writing/journalism? Was this a passion you've always enjoyed?
RK: I've always been an avid reader and writer. I had to learn Braille as an adult, but until then I had to get audio books. When I got my laptop in high school that made things much better on me because I could do things myself.
I love books, diving into stories and meeting new people and experiencing different life lessons and scenarios through fictional characters.
All my life, I've had a speech impediment that's called stammering. It's a kind of stutter that blocks airflow instead of making me repeat words. I realized that when I wrote I didn't have any barriers, I could express my colorful thoughts and emotions through the use of my fingers on a keyboard. I’d write my friends letters about books and they really enjoyed my thoughts about them and asked for more. Writing was an adaptive way for me to speak with no stutter or stammer so I embraced it. I eventually found new ways to say things and that's how my writing grew, just with me doing it.
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett petting a cat
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett petting a cat
Courtesy Robert Kingett
Some people say it was a compensatory gift. Do I believe them? Is it really a gift to combat my speech difficulties? I believe so, but I enjoyed it so much that I didn't even think of it as an adaptive communication tool so I just kept doing it. I practiced, and practiced, and wrote all my life. Journals, poems, letters, emails, rants, persuasive essays, everything. All the thoughts that I can't express with my voice I can shout loud and clear with words and everybody can finally hear what I truly have to say.
As far as journalism goes, that began in high school. My school didn't have a newspaper and I wanted one so I created a newspaper, hired visually impaired photographers, and soon the paper became the blind departments’ source for news and views. I hired people, scolded people if they didn't produce, I was the chief director and I wanted to make sure people read our stuff, and that we were professional. I loved it when people said “You can count on the paper to be released weekly” or “you can count on accuracy.” That gave me such a thrill that I ran the paper strongly until I left high school.
Blindness doesn t stop Robert Kingett from working as a Digital Journalist
Blindness doesn't stop Robert Kingett from working as a Digital Journalist
Courtesy Robert Kingett
Digital Journal: What inspired you to apply to write for Digital Journal?
RK: A friend told me about it so I replied. It's great to be able to tell people what's happening. I've always hated rumors so this was a way for me to say this is what's happening and this is how it is. I like giving information to people and I love it when people learn something from my commentary.
Digital Journal: As a blind journalist, explain how you can read and write articles. What software do you use?
RK: I actually have an old laptop with Windows 7. On this laptop I use Microsoft word and a screen reader called NVDA, a free screen reader that reads whatever I tell it to read using keyboard commands to navigate the same way sighted people navigate with the mouse. I use a standard keyboard, complete with fading letters and everything!
The only thing that's challenging is when Web developers don't code their website in a way where my screen reader can tell me what's on the screen. Having no alt text for images, etc., or having a lot of inaccessible java elements on pages. Other than that I find it easy because I've been navigating with a keyboard for years. I'm definitely an expert!
I will admit that even with all this technology, it doesn't solve all of my vision problems. A lot of editors want me to interact with images. Insert them, shrink them etc. I can't manipulate images because there are not many tools available for that.
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett relaxing at home
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett relaxing at home
Courtesy Robert Kingett
Digital Journal: What's the biggest misconception people have about blind people?
RK: I think that the biggest misconception is that blind people sit in a corner and suck their thumb. Or that we can't do things because the sighties are used to doing it a certain way and can't even begin to imagine how they would adapt to crossing streets with no visual cues. I don't know why this is a big stereotype either but a lot of sighties think that we can't use a computer. The chances are a blind person will know a lot more about a computer than any sighted person because we interact with the Web on a daily basis.
That's also why I'm passionate about journalism because I want to bring my world into the sighted world. I want to show them our news, technology, debates, struggles, and achievements.
Digital Journal: What other projects/advocacy do you do these days? What's something that's really close to your heart?
RK: I'm involved in a lot of disability projects and LGBT advocacy efforts. As a gay man I know what it's like to be looked at like a "faggot" rather than a human being so I want to make the LGBT world better, not just for me but others like me. I know the rude and hurtful things people have called me and others.
I hear about the gay violence on the news. I know how badly it hurts when someone says "faggot" because then, we're not even human beings with our own desires, we're just faggots so I'm involved in many campaigns to achieve equality for myself and others as well. I'm on a mission to make who we are national acceptance, even in the work place and in legal matters. I want to have a world where there isn't a closet to hide in so I'm working to make that world happen.
One of my biggest campaigns that many people know about is the accessible Netflix project, a campaign to ensure that Netflix adds audio description, a service for the blind that describes key visual elements such as gestures and scene changes between dialogue, and accessible interfaces that allow us to know what's on their website. Our campaign also aims to provide an accessible interface for the physically disabled that use alternative keyboards and the like.
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett is shown interacting with a mannequin
Digital Journalist Robert Kingett is shown interacting with a mannequin
Courtesy Robert Kingett
Digital Journal: What is one thing you would like to do in life that you haven't done yet?
RK: That's hard to say but I can try to pinpoint some of my many wishes. I’d love to go on a jet ski and I’d also love to go horseback riding.
On the work side, I’d love to write for the New York Times someday or even the Chicago Tribune. In my personal life, I'd like to find someone who will become an epic connection. And oh, I’d even love to fly in a blimp!
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